The perennial lifestyle of trees is characterized by seasonal cycles of growth and dormancy. The recurrent transitions into and out of dormancy represent an adaptation mechanism that largely determines survival and, hence, the geographical distribution of tree species. To understand better the molecular basis of bud dormancy, cDNA-amplified fragment length polymorphism (AFLP) transcript profiling was used to map differential gene expression during dormancy induction, dormancy, dormancy release by chilling, and subsequent bud break in apical buds of poplar (Populus tremulax P. alba). Unexpectedly, besides poplar transcript sequences, the cDNA-AFLP profiles revealed sequence signatures originating from a complex bacterial community, which was more pronounced during dormancy and displayed temporal dynamics in composition and complexity. Based on poplar gene expression dynamics, processes and potential regulators during different phases of dormancy are described. Novel genes were linked to a crucial transitory step in dormancy induction, and to dormancy release through chilling, a molecularly unresolved phenomenon. One WRKY- and two ERF-related transcription factors were similarly expressed during the transition to dormancy in apical and axillary buds. These regulatory genes could be involved in the differentiation of stipule-like leaf organs protecting the bud, or act during the growth-dormancy transition in the meristem, revealing commonalities between para- and endodormancy.